Solar Faq

solar Energy FAQ


What is solar ENERGY?

Solar energy is radiant energy that is produced by the sun. Every day the sun radiates, or sends out, an enormous amount of energy. The sun radiates more energy in one second than people have used since the beginning of time! Where does the energy come from that constantly radiates from the sun? It comes from within the sun itself. Like other stars, the sun is a big ball of gases––mostly hydrogen and helium atoms. The hydrogen atoms in the sun’s core combine to form helium and generate energy in a process called nuclear fusion. Solar energy takes advantage of the sun’s rays to generate heat or electricity. It is an infinitely renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner.

Today less than 0.1% of our heating, transportation and power energy comes from direct sunlight although it is now possible to meet all our energy needs with this simple, renewable resource.

What is a Solar Home?

A solar home is any house that makes good use of the suns energy. It’s a solar energy fact that an ordinary house becomes a solar house when it gains more energy than it looses. Passive Solar greenhouse additions can transform ordinary houses into solar houses, but these additions are best suited for arid sunny areas.

How Much Energy is in Sunlight?

The energy from the sun varies from place to place and is very dependent on weather conditions. At our distance from the sun its light energy is greatly diminished. If we were without an atmosphere 1.4 KW/m2 per hour would be available, but with an atmosphere we can only count on 1KW/m2 per hour in the absence of clouds.

How much does solar energy cost?

A typical 2-kW solar electric system will cost approximately $20,000 USD. That total includes the cost for all components – solar panels, panel mounts, and inverter – and labor associated with installation. It does not however, reflect all the avoided costs, such as the tax breaks and the credits received through net metering.

Go to our solar Power Cost page for more information or visit our solar Calculator page to get an estimate. Coming soon a search to find a solar power installer to size and price the right system for you!

How much will I save on my utility bills from a home electric solar power system?

This is a relative question. It depends, in part, on how much electricity you use, how efficient the appliances are that you operate and how large of a solar system you install. With that being said expect to generate excess electricity in the summer (when days are long and sunny), which can potentially offset the energy you use from the grid in the winter. That is if you even still need the grid and are connected to it. A combination of energy efficient appliances and light bulbs can help reduce your homes energy bill by over two-thirds.

If you are lucky enough to be able to build a full blown solar system you will not have an energy bill at all and actually might even be able to sell your excess electricity! Find out more about the costs and savings associated with a residential solar power system in our solar Power Cost section.

How much maintenance do solar energy panels require?

Solar photovoltaic panels require little maintenance – no need to wash or dust. It is, however, important to place panels where they will remain clear of shade and debris. Thus you will have to wipe them off if too much snow or leaves fall on them.

Solar hot water collection arrays don’t need much attention either. It does help to periodically use a window wash brush, biodegradable soap, and water to clean the tubes.

Do I need special insurance requirements?

Standard homeowner’s insurance policies usually suffice to meet electric utility requirements. Electric utilities usually require that homeowners who take advantage of net metering sign an interconnection agreement.

What is net metering?

Net metering is an electricity policy for consumers who own renewable energy facilities, such as wind or solar power. “Net”, in this context, is used in the sense of meaning “what remains after deductions” — in this case, the deduction of any energy outflows from metered energy inflows. Under net metering, a system owner receives retail credit for at least a portion of the electricity they generate. Most electricity meters accurately record in both directions, allowing a no-cost method of effectively banking excess electricity production for future credit. However, the rules vary significantly by country and possibly state/province; if net metering is available, if and how long you can keep your banked credits, and how much the credits are worth (retail/wholesale). Most net metering laws involve monthly roll over of kWh credits, a small monthly connection fee, require monthly payment of deficits (i.e. normal electric bill), and annual settlement of any residual credit.

Will I need a building permit to install a solar energy system in my home?

In many states yes you will need to obtain building permits to install a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water system. Similarly state, building, electrical, and plumbing codes also apply. That said, residential solar power systems do not use “radical” building techniques and most jurisdictions have building codes that fully embrace solar energy technology. Solar professionals will account for the price of permits in their cost estimate.

When should I seek a solar professional?

Although solar energy systems work in parallel with conventional residential electrical and plumbing systems, there are parts of the process where you will need to seek out professionals who specialize in solar power installation. Solar installation professionals can help you determine the type and size of system most suited for your needs. As well as give sound advise on state and local laws regarding your solar system.

What should I ask a solar professional installer?

Solar professional installers can take the guesswork out of installing a solar power system. You should prepare a comprehensive list of questions and ask all of the questions as you have prepared. Whether you are considering solar photovoltaic, solar hot water, or solar heating, a solar pro can help you determine the type and size of system that will work best for you and guide you through the processes.

Why is it important to get multiple bids?

As with any major purchase, it’s crucial to compare costs and information. Seeking information from multiple professionals can provide constructive advice, set realistic expectations, and help you fine-tune the design that will work best for your application. It also promotes competition and allows you to get the best value for your money.

How long will it take to install a solar power system in my home?

Planning, configuring, and custom ordering for your solar energy system can take up to a few weeks. However, the installation process itself can typically be completed in only a few days time, in many cases even less.

Do solar cells store energy?

No. Solar cells just convert sunlight into an electric current that must be used immediately or stored in batteries for later use.

Do I need battery backup for my solar panels?

Probably not – a backup battery bank can add as much as 25% in cost to a residential solar PV system. It’s not necessarily more efficient either – a same sized solar array will yield about 7–10% less energy if it’s battery-tied than its grid-tied counterpart. It is only recommended if you really must be off the grid and self-dependent.

Though you will remain tethered to your local utilities’ grid, you will not have to worry about not generating enough power. You also gain the advantage of offsetting rising utility costs. Most solar photovoltaic experts do not recommend adding a backup battery system unless there is concern about a long utility outage or the residence is in a remote location.

How much space do I need for a solar photovoltaic system?

In bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic panel will yield 10 watts of power. That’s a helpful rule of thumb for calculating a rough estimate of how much area you may need. For example, a 1000-watt system may need 100 – 200 square feet of area, depending on the type of PV module used and the light your area receives.

How many solar panels do I need for an electric solar power system?

Your homes energy-use, available space for a system, and overall costs for the system components and installation dictate the size of the photovoltaic system you will need. Solar contractors in your area can help determine the best size for your solar photovoltaic system.

Find out how to estimate your home’s solar electricity needs by checking out our solar Power Cost section.

To find a local solar installer, use our Solar Installer Directory.

How much shade is too much for solar panels?

Unfortunately shading a photovoltaic system will dramatically decrease its output. Just shading the bottom row of wafers alone amounts to an 80% reduction in efficiency. So above all, do not shade your array!

How well do solar panels work in cloudy conditions?

A cloudy day provides sufficient diffuse light by which the panel will produce electricity. Optimum electrical production occurs with bright and sunny weather conditions. Under a mild overcast, the modules might produce about half as much as under full sun, ranging down to as little as five to ten percent under a dark overcast day. In remote, off-grid applications, a PV system is connected to a battery storage system as a backup power source. In grid-connected applications, the PV system works in parallel with the utility power grid. So, if electrical needs exceed the solar power output, the local utility makes up for the shortfall. Conversely, when the PV system generates more energy than the building requires, the excess power is exported to the utility grid, reversing the electrical meter!

How well do solar panels work in the winter?

Solar panels work on light not heat. Although with the shorter daylight hours in winter, solar panels will produce proportionately less power. If the modules become covered with snow, they stop producing power, but snow generally melts quickly when the sun strikes the modules; if you brush the snow off, they resume operation immediately.

Can I use equipment directly from solar panels?

Yes. Solar panels will directly power equipment such as fans and pumps as long as the load is accounted for correctly. Equipment load that is greater than the output of the solar panel will weaken equipment efficiency, as overcast or cloudy days reduce output. Equipment that requires a more stable voltage should pair solar power with a battery backup.

How do I know if solar panels will work on my home?

Take a look at the position of your home on its lot – and particularly your roof. Ask the following questions:

  1. Is there good southern exposure? Orienting solar panels to the south maximizes the effectiveness of energy collection.
  2. Is the exposure free of trees or buildings that could shade the panels or drop debris on them? Shading photovoltaic panels dramatically reduces their effectiveness.
  3. What is the pitch of your roof? Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees can accommodate photovoltaic panels.

Do I need to have south facing exposure to have a solar energy system?

Although southern exposure increases the effectiveness of a residential solar power system, your home may still work for solar power without having south facing exposure. Seek advice from a professional solar designer or installer to ensure success.

What are the possible problems with solar panels and how can I prevent them?

Solar panel failure is most often caused by water damage to the panel, sealant, or connections.
To prevent damage or failure, mount the panel carefully. Be sure not to fix it horizontally, which encourages water collection in the frame. Also, allow for a sufficient air gap beneath the panel. Keeping your panel dry and clean will ensure efficient, maximum output.

Are solar electric systems safe?

Yes. Solar cells are mostly silicon, the primary component of sand. There is no exhaust and no toxic materials to leak out of the system. The electricity coming through the inverter is just like the electricity coming from household wall sockets; you should use the same care you would with utility power. All components are approved for utility interconnection and are installed according to standard construction practices.

Are solar power systems good for the environment?

Energy created through our solar electric system produces no pollutants. Our smallest system typically cuts greenhouse gas emissions as effectively as 50 trees.

What other factors are important to consider when installing a home solar energy system?

The location of your home and the local climate will play into where you place and how you install your solar electric or solar hot water system. Wind speeds, heavy snow loads, and salt water can all affect a solar array. Understanding how those inputs affect performance will determine the types of mounts or how the arrays are angled. A solar professional in your area is likely quite knowledgeable about your local conditions and can help you design a system that works well for you.

Why is solar energy so expensive?

There are many reasons why solar energy is so expensive. Here are just a few of them.

a.    Competition is minimal.
b.    Government regulations will not allow house owners to install their own systems in most areas.
c.    Architects are reluctant to approve innovative unproven solar house designs.
d.    Builders find that it is not profitable for them to spend excessive architectural fees on designs that are not mainstream and salable.

e.    Our government, who should be demonstrating a leadership position in the promotion and use of solar energy, is the primary offender of energy conservation and has no interest in the promotion of a sustainable culture that might threaten the aristocracy.

f.      The price of oil is maintained at an artificially low price by government subsidies and special interest groups.

g.    Most people are too busy dealing with the problems of day-to-day survival to be concerned with the headache of a long-range investment like solar energy.

h.    Fossil fuel oil corporations, who control our economy are doing all they can to discourage the proliferation of alternative energies.

i.       We have become addicted to fossil fuel energy like a bad habit.

Why do other countries use more solar energy than the U.S.A.?

Oil is three or four times more expensive in many non-American countries. Solar energy alternatives are less expensive than fossil fuels and grid power. It’s as simple as that. If you had to pay $7 gallon would you consider the possibilities of solar?

May I install my own solar electric system?

Most states have regulations that prohibit individuals from installing their own system even though installation fees are excessive. If you do install your own system you could easily cut your bill in half, but than you wouldn’t be entitled to a rebate. Check your local laws for updated info. Many states are changing solar energy laws day by day.

May I install my own solar hot water system?

Some states still have regulations that prohibit individuals from installing their own solar hot water system, but this is rapidly changing. If you have the necessary plumbing skills then it is a good idea to do it yourself. Again for the best answer check your local laws because they change with the times.

Can I heat my house with sunlight?

Definitely! If you live in the southwest all you need is a simple passive solar greenhouse. Northern climates require lots of insulation as well as an entire solar thermal roof dedicated to the process of gathering heat and an enormous heat storage vault for storing it. The labor and materials required to heat a house with sunlight are minimal compared with the government regulations and the building permit headaches.

How does a solar cell work?

In layperson terms, photovoltaic cells are comprised of a semiconductor material such as silicon. Added to the silicon are the elements phosphorous and boron, which create conductivity within the cell and activate the movement of electrons. The electrons move across the cell when activated by the sunlight’s energy into the electrical circuit hooked up to the solar panel.

How does a solar hot water system work?

Most hot water systems are designed to preheat water before it enters a conventional hot water heating system. The five parts of the system include a collector, a pump, a heat storage tank and a differential thermostat.

How does a solar heating system work?

Hydronic solar heating systems work the same way as solar hot water systems except that the stored hot water is used for house heating rather than domestic hot water systems. Hydronic solar heating systems are typically ten or more times larger than domestic hot water systems. In mild, sunny areas the hot air from solar greenhouses are often used for house heating, but hydronic systems are more suited for cold climates.

What’s the difference between solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems?

While both types of solar systems capture energy from the sun, solar photovoltaic systems use photovoltaic panels to produce electricity. Solar hot water, or thermal, systems capture sunlight to heat water for domestic use, to heat a swimming pool, or for a radiant heating system.

What is an energy independent house?

An energy independent house is a home that is not connected to the power grid. It’s a house without power lines hanging over the back yard. It’s a house without an oil tank attached to the side of the house, buried in the ground or occupying valuable basement space. A well-planned solar house can supply all the electrical household needs and 80% of its heating requirements. Additional heating requirements can be supplemented with a well-insulated structure.

What is a solar thermal power?

Solar thermal energy is a technology for harnessing solar energy for thermal energy (heat). The USA Energy Information Administration defines solar thermal collectors as low-, medium-, or high-temperature collectors. Low temperature collectors are flat plates generally used to heat swimming pools. Medium-temperature collectors are also usually flat plates but are used for creating hot water for residential and commercial use. High temperature collectors concentrate sunlight using mirrors or lenses and are generally used for electric power production. Solar thermal energy is different from photovoltaics, which convert solar energy directly into electricity.

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6 Responses to “Solar Faq”

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